If you’re like most people, you probably don’t enjoy dealing with ants. They can be pesky little creatures that seem to swarm everywhere and get into everything. But, even though they can be a nuisance, ants are an important part of our ecosystem, and they play a valuable role in the garden.
One of the most important things to remember when dealing with ants in your garden is that they are not all bad. In fact, many types of ants are helpful to plants and can help improve the health of your garden. Before you start spraying insecticide in all corners of your garden, take a moment to learn about the different types of ants and what they do.
Are Ants Harmful or Helpful?
Whether ants are harmful or helpful depends on the species of ant, but most ants are actually helpful, especially when contained outside. They aerate the soil, help control pests, and even pollinate plants. Some ants can become nuisances, however, if they invade your home in search of food or water. In theses cases, ants can become quite the nuisance and likely ruin any benefit they might bring to your garden.
Different Ant Species
Ants are quite the varied creatures, and clock it at over 12,000 different species. While we won’t cover all of them here (and couldn’t possibly hope to), we’ll broadly separate them into 3 main groups you’re likely to encounter in your garden. Let’s look at these different ant species.
- Garden ants - These are the most common type of ant, and they are beneficial to plants. Garden ants help aerate the soil and spread around important nutrients. They also eat certain types of harmful insects. The majority of ants most people will find in their garden will be this variety.
- Carpenter ants - These ants are named after their habit of tunneling into wood. While they don’t eat wood, they can cause damage to buildings and other structures. Carpenter ants are also known to eat honeydew, which is a sweet substance that aphids secrete. Carpenter ants are significantly larger than the common garden ant, and makes it fairly easy to identify this variety.
- Fire ants - These ants get their name from their painful sting. Fire ants are aggressive and will attack people or animals that they perceive as a threat. They are also known to eat small insects and other animals. This variety is usually reddish to reddish brown in color.
If you have fire ants in your garden, it’s important to take steps to remove them. Fire ants can be very dangerous, and they can quickly take over an area if left unchecked. Their bites are quite painful, and in large numbers can be dangerous to humans. The best way to deal with fire ants is to call an exterminator, or put down ant traps.
Positives of Ants in your garden
There are actually quite a few benefits to having ants in your garden. While many people only see ants as a nuisance, they are essential to a healthy ecosystem. Keep the following points in mind the next time you go to crush an anthill.
Aerate Your Soil
Ants are great at aerating and loosening the soil as they travel through it, which can improve drainage and help new plants to take root more easily. This naturally helps to improve soil quality, and helps keep your soil easy to grow in.
Naturally Control Pests
Ants are a natural pest control technique for certain pests. Ants will actively feed on them and their young, and this naturally diminishes their numbers. In fact, farmers for centuries have introduced ants onto their farms for this very reason.
Ants are also excellent at pollinating your plants. As ants move from plant to plant, they naturally pick up bits of pollen and move this between plants. This pollinates your plant, which is essential for a healthy garden. This is especially the case for sweet or sugary plants as these plants are extra attractive for ants.
Negatives of Ants in your garden
Ants are always a good sign though, and in some cases can become a nuisance. Despite their benefits, they can also harm your garden. Here’s a couple of things to watch out for.
Can Damage Plants
Ants can damage your plants and their roots as they burrow through the ground. Outdoors, this is usually only an issue in significant numbers. Indoors however, it can be a serious issue even if a small number sets up their home in your plant’s container. If you’re noticing ants in your indoor garden containers you should look to remove them.
Attract Certain Pests
Certain pests are also attracted to ants, making this sort of a double-edged sword. Certain pests will feed on ants and will naturally attract these bugs to your garden.
Ants also create a form of symbiotic relationship with pests like aphids. Aphids secrete a sweet, sugary substance called honeydew that ants feed upon. Aphids, from their side, protect the ants from predators which enables both groups to thrive.
Can Cause Damage To Property and People
Certain ants can also cause property damage if in or near your home. Carpenter ants can chew through your home’s wood, which can cause significant damage. This can be a serious problem; if you notice carpenter ants in your home you should act immediately to prevent long term damage.
Other ants can actually be harmful to people. Fire ants, for example, are known to be quite aggressive and have a painful bite. This is uncomfortable to experience, and for certain people can be life threatening.